Make no mistake: the beaches, immaculate brochure-perfect resorts and climate in general, are the reasons that flights to the Mauritius island and vacation packages are anything but cheap. This is a long-coveted honeymooners paradise, but if you’re willing to hire a car or motorbike (the former is preferable in my opinion), and wind through the Mauritian roads flanked by sugarcane plantations to the city centers, markets and street corners, you will discover some of the best eats on the island.
It’s true that some of the resort restaurants make exquisite food, but if you can slip away from the ultra fine dining meals or all-inclusive packages, you’ll be doing your adventurous side a favor.
Comprised of 80% Indian descendants, as well as Madagascans and those from the Eastern coast of Africa and the French, who colonized the country and have had a profound impact on culture and etiquette (French is the official language), the food on the island is an eclectic mix. If you are vegetarian, you’re in luck – most of the street food available caters specifically to vegetarians.
The immigrant populations had to make do with new ingredients and limited imports, and this is reflected in many dishes. I’ve eaten Indian food on many continents, but hadn’t tried a dholl puri before – a soft crepe-like split pea flour flat bread. It was possibly made as a compromise when certain flours were not available. It has remained a well-loved snack, with busy vendors serving one every 30 seconds or so. Yes, I stood in a corner and counted on one particular visit. Spread with grois pois (bean curry) and chilli paste, you’ll want more than just one. The chilli paste, of potent heat, is served with everything. The best dholl puris can be found at Dewa & Sons in Rose Hill and Chapeau la Paille in Port Louis.
In fact, a good starting point for an introduction to Mauritian street food is the Port Louis market. After you’ve marveled at the excellent produce piled in neat stacks and engaged with the obliging vendors who will pose proudly with their wares, head to the small food section. Here you will find a selection of some of the country’s most popular snacks- dholl puri (though I recommend the stand selling it just outside the doors of the food section), fried snacks such as gateaux piment– split pea fritters with chilli, farata (roti), boulettes (Chinese steamed dumplings) and sweet alouda, a rose flavored milky drink similar to falooda. As you can tell, the French language dominates, while the dishes remain distinctly island-style Indian.
Next, walk along the crowded streets outside the market and look out for queues outside mobile trailers, motorbikes, fitted with glass cases to carry food and stationary vendors selling homemade cakes, sweets, haleem, a nourishing soup and pickles called archards. These are lightly brined and usually pineapple, carrot and mango. The vendor will pack it for you in a plastic bag and you’re invited to add salt and chilli to your taste.
As with all street food consumption, it’s best to choose snacks that are freshly prepared in front of you, still hot and where there are long queues, which is an indicator of customer confidence and quickly moving stock. All this will ensure there’s less of a chance of any mishaps. You certainly don’t want to spend all of your holiday confined to your sea-facing room.
The beaches are all public, even the ones on which the extravagant resorts are built. While they are usually quite isolated, you should take a walk looking for groups of locals, or fishermen. Vendors will often sell snacks where the locals hang out. The markets in Rose Hill and Flacq also have a great selection of street food. The briani (biryani), a specialty made by the Muslim community is loved by locals. It’s a plain looking but very spicy rice with lamb or chicken and lentils.
In Gris-Gris, in the south, Poonam, a vendor in a neat mobile food truck gave me my first taste of di pan frire - a miraculously simple dish of bread dipped in a light, spicy batter and deep-fried. Proper fried bread, eaten piping hot, watching the waves crash below – it was a revelation. Now, when I think of Mauritius on a particularly cold day at home, I can’t help but conjure up the taste of Poonam’s fried bread, farata and gateaux piment.
This is a summary of my favorite not-to-be-missed Mauritius street food
- Di pan frire
- Dholl Puri
- Gateaux piment
- Farata Gajacks: fried snacks like gateaux bringele (battered brinjals, also made with potato)
- Roti Chaud: roti filled with butter bean curry and chilli paste
- Archards Victoria pineapples: very sweet, best with chilli
- Boulettes: best ones in China Town
- Briani (breyani): great versions in Rose Hill and Flacq market
- Sugar cane juice
- Alouda: try Alouda Pillay, Port Louis market.